Last month, I reviewed Heather Hiestand’s novella, Captain Andrew’s Flying Christmas, the first title in her Steampunk Smugglers series. If you read my review, then you know I wasn’t overly impressed. However, I decided to give Hiestand another chance. Why? Because despite the obvious flaws in the first story, it definitely had an interesting premise and some solid world-building. So with Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, I choose to indulge with Captain Fenna’s Dirigible Valentine. And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised with this one.
Background: Three years ago, Terrwyn Fenna was arrested during a smuggling raid and consigned to London’s corrupt Newgate Prison. During her imprisonment, she was subjected to significant torment and sexual exploitation– abuse that ultimately resulted in pregnancy. With a little bit of luck (and lots of help), she managed to escape just prior to giving birth.
Flash forward two months later: Terrwyn lives in hiding outside of London, desperately trying to maintain a low profile. Unfortunately, her safe haven is compromised when she encounters a few officers from the British Air Force. She flees and avoids getting recaptured by securing command of a new airship and resumes the family smuggling business. All of her focus centers on rebuilding her air pirate reputation and keeping her daughter safe. As you can imagine, her harrowing experiences in prison have left her uninterested in men. That is until she finds herself increasing drawn to Ian Cavil, one of her crewmen.
Ian is no stranger to imprisonment himself. In fact, he has only recently escaped his enslavement aboard a military airship run by the Blockaders, a government group that kidnaps unsuspecting men and forces them into military service. Smuggling life proves to be advantageous for the duo until Terrwyn is discovered by an old enemy. The ensuring drama draws both Terrwyn and Ian back into the clutches of those who would enslave them, and they must work together to maintain their freedom.
Captain Fenna’s Dirigible Valentine is far better than the author’s first attempt. The plot has a clearer focus and more streamlined storyline. The sequel’s longer length probably has the added benefit of allowing the plots to resolve themselves more naturally rather than forcing a happy ending. My big complaint with this book centers on the lack of real depth given to the main character regarding her heinous abuse in prison. Hiestand never really explores the long-lasting emotional trauma except in a way that feels too one-dimensional for such a strong topic. It’s as though she wanted her character to be flawed but didn’t want to really touch on the dark aspects of sexual abuse. That said Terrwyn is a likeable, more fully fleshed out character than the first installment’s heroine so I give the author credit for imaging a stronger main character this time around.
A bit of warning: this story isn’t very Valentine-y or overly romantic despite the name (or its romantic side plot for that matter). However, I recommend Captain Fenna’s Valentine Dirigible if you want a quick, fast-paced read filled with airships, mechanicals, automatons and adventure. Even though it is the series’ second title, there is enough background information present to make reading the first title unnecessary.
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